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The basics of a healthy diet

Olive oil, cereals, pulses, oily fish, fruits, vegetables... what makes them so important in our diet?

10 JUNE 2011

Good health is the foundation of beauty, and a healthy diet is the foundation of good health. By watching our diet to ensure it includes certain foods, we can make sure that the foundation is as sound as possible, as well as preventing certain illnesses and slowing ageing.

Many studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet – and some of its key foods in particular – can serve as a solid basis from which to plan your diet.

Here we take a look at some of those ingredients and the health and nutrition aspects that make them the mainstay of a healthy diet:


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Olive oil 

Containing monounsaturated oleic acid, olive oil lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) and strengthens good cholesterol (HDL). What's more, the high fatty acid content reduces blood hypercoagulability – a tendency for the blood to clot too quickly – thereby lowering the risk of thrombosis, arteriosclerosis – hardening of the arteries – and heart attack.

Garlic 

Small in size, but an essential ingredient in many dishes, garlic is rich in vitamins A, B and C, as well as certain minerals, including potassium; this means it helps lower blood pressure, and is an excellent diuretic. It's rich in fibre, too, and is an effective anti-rheumatic. But that's not all: it also helps reduce LDL cholesterol, and regular consumption appears to decrease the incidence of stomach cancer and lung cancer.

Onion

High in flavonoids, onions helps reduce the risk of heart disease. They also promote blood sugar control and reduce LDL cholesterol levels, as well as having diuretic and expectorant properties and helping to lower blood pressure.

Cereals

Nutritionists consider this group, which includes rice, pasta, bread and corn, irreplaceable in a balanced diet. Cereals add complex carbohydrates to the diet, and are a good source of energy. They also provide lots of fibre, and contain vitamins, especially from the B and E groups. Remember that it's 'wholemeal' cereals we're talking about here, as it contains the full nutrients of the cereal rather than the less beneficial subset available in refined and processed varieties.

Eggs

The balance of amino acids in eggs allows the body to use them to form cells, which is why doctors consider their protein to be of particular importance. 


Legumes (pulses)
Lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans (fresh and dried), are high in proteins and carbohydrates and are irreplaceable in a balanced diet. They are best eaten together with cereals, as the combination provides an almost perfect protein. 


Walnuts

Studies show walnuts to be useful in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. A word of warning though: their high calorie count means they should not be eaten in excess. 


Oily fish
Polyunsaturated fatty acids from the Omega family 3 are the key to the importance of oily fish in our diet, as they help protect against heart disease. Nutritionists recommend their inclusion four or five times a week in small amounts (100 to 200 grammes is sufficient per portion). The group, which includes tuna, salmon, mackerel, anchovies and sardines, also contributes useful minerals, especially iodine and calcium. 


Vegetables and salads

Along with its known antioxidant properties that help to slow skin aging, carotene or provitamin A helps protect against cancer of the lung, oesophagus and larynx. Salads and vegetables are rich in vitamin C, too, of course, as well as folic acid, mineral salts and fibre, all of which play an important role in a healthy diet.

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